This trip report covers a NMT Caving Club to The El Malpais National Monument.
Trip leader: David Hunter
Attending: Connor, Eshani, Evelyn, Alexander, and Aaron(?)
As noted in prior reports, El Malpais National Monument is located south of Grants, NM. It is the site of a series of ancient volcanic eruptions that covered the surrounding area with lava. This resulted in a rugged area which is both picturesque and very difficult to hike across. And, fortunately for cavers, it resulted in a number of lava tubes.
This trip we visited Xenolith Cave. It is located close to the highway and, unlike The Big Tubes Area, is easily accessible year round. The cave is a bit under a mile from the parking area.
One the way to Xenolith the trail goes past Double Sinks. The tourist brochure does not say how large of a cave is down there. Presumably it has been explored, but it is not open to the public. Possibly they are concerned about the rather vertical entry.
The picture here shows the group on the bridge between the sinks. The neargound is the eastern sink; the western sink is behind the group.
The route in is not always easy to find, but this time it was marked with reflectors. Of course, the cave management agencies don't always use the same color standards. In this one the orange/red points the way in while white points the way out. In many other caves, green is in, white is out, and red means don't step here. Colorblind cavers are not accounted for; A better standard would use both the color and shape of the reflector.
The passage varied in size and composition. Sometimes the original roof was intact and sometimes it wasn't. The name Xenolith means foreign rock and refers to some non-volcanic rocks found in the walls of the cave.
As usual Eshani climbed in numerous small holes and enjoyed peering out at the group. In this case she is looking down from a passage that circled around above the main passage.
Xenolith is a small cave that does not normally take a day to explore. After finishing in Xenolith we finished hiking around the El Calderon Loop Trail. The next stop was a large lava trench. Back when the volcano erupted it was the route of a large flow that fed lower flows, presumably including the one that formed Xenolith Cave. Too bad that the roof of the trench didn't hold, making a truly huge lava tube.
After finishing the loop trail we returned to Socorro for the usual cleaning and decon of the gear.